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Vancouver Virtual Learning Academy to open in January at former Marshall Elementary

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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Mario Gonzalez of Inline Commercial Construction helps to bring the student cafe to life for the Vancouver Virtual Learning Academy on Wednesday morning.
Mario Gonzalez of Inline Commercial Construction helps to bring the student cafe to life for the Vancouver Virtual Learning Academy on Wednesday morning. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The Vancouver Virtual Learning Academy is moving to a new home.

The newly named Heights Campus is set to open in January within the renovated building that housed the original George C. Marshall Elementary School at 6450 MacArthur Blvd. in Vancouver.

The academy is an alternative learning experience in Vancouver Public Schools, which helps provide remote or semi-remote learning for students and families who may be more hesitant to return to full in-person education amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The renovation project was planned as part of the district’s $458 million bond measure passed in 2017 to build three new schools in the district and renovate a handful of others.

The campus will also be home to Vancouver Home Connection and Open Doors, two smaller educational support services for local students. Though most of the education will be done remotely, the school will facilitate an estimated 150-200 students each day.

Prior to COVID-19, the Vancouver Virtual Learning Academy had about 250-280 students enrolled, according to Deanna Hogan, the principal of the Heights Campus. The demand for virtual learning alternatives that the pandemic presented, she said, skyrocketed the academy’s enrollment.

“We’re constantly enrolling students here. It was more like a tsunami of students when it first hit,” Hogan said. “We were enrolling 30-35 new students each day over a three week period in August to September.”

Today, the school boasts an enrollment of approximately 960.

After conducting dozens of orientations and hiring a number of new teachers and staffers to match enrollment, the school was up and running at its previous space at the former Lieser Elementary School in mid-October, Hogan said.

The new facility will provide classrooms, computer labs, counseling offices and more for students to use intermittently throughout the week. High school students will also have their own courtyard area for lunch on days that they’re on campus.

Another important feature of the new building, Hogan said, will be the family-community resource center: a community resource room with a kitchen, table space, a conference room and laundry machines. Hogan said the room is part of a district-wide effort to support families in need and unaccompanied minors.

“Years ago, the district started coordinating ways to provide basic needs for families in finding jobs, rental assistance, food and clothing at the schools,” Hogan said. “It’s a real attempt to use the bond measure to improve the quality of life and learning for students and families.”

The district now has 31 employees working to aid family-community resource center programs throughout elementary, middle and high schools.

The courtyard for high school students reflects a goal to create unique spaces for students of all ages in the school, according to Vancouver Public Schools’ support service manager Jack Claros.

Claros said supply chain issues had impacted the project’s timeline in unexpected ways, such as an inability to get small panes of glass for classroom doors. The project was initially expected to be finished in summer of 2021.

“I think we’ve accepted this is a modernization project,” Claros said. “It’s no surprise that between COVID and the reality of shortages that there would be setbacks. Considering all that, I don’t think six months is bad at all.”

The building’s renovation features an all-new roof, new windows, wiring and technology updates and flooring replacements throughout. The original building, Claros said, was built over 50 years ago and last remodeled in the 1990s, so there was some significant work to be done.

“It takes the support of the community, it takes the hard work of trades, educators, teams in communication and planning to get a project like this done,” Claros said.

Griffin Reilly: 360-735-4517; griffin.reilly@columbian.com; twitter.com/griflewisreilly

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